I’ve got children on the brain. As a 21-year-old guy maybe that’s not the most urgent item vying for my attention. But there they are, little toddlers just playing in the sandbox of my mind. Lately I’ve been thinking about how I will be graduating in May, and what graduate school I’ll go to. That’s probably where I’ll end up spending a sizable chunk of the rest of my life. That might be where I’ll end up raising children. Do I really want to raise children there, or at all?
These thoughts are not something I usually share with people. (Except for you, impersonal reader.)
Even I am shocked at them. The first time I spent an entire 15-minute shower (sorry, Earth) with an elaborate daydream involving a dreamy husband with a handlebar mustache living with me and a beautiful adopted Chinese girl we’ve named Mulan, I was as startled as anybody. When it happened again the next day, he had a soul patch and her name was Virginia (look at the byline), I knew this was something I really had to contend with.
You see, I deal with all conversations, deliberations, expectations and sometimes exhortations regarding children with a little thing I like to call the “not-for-me reflex.” Anytime someone brings up the topic, or the discussion accidentally nose-dives into the subject, I deploy an immediate, assured “not-for-me.” Here’s a cut-away:
PROFESSOR: Class, it is widely known that 56 children died a horrible watery death on the Titanic.
ME: Yeah. I mean, I get why that’s bad and all, but kids just aren’t for me.
You can see that this idea, that kids are not “for me” has been with me for a while. I can’t even tell you at what age I decided I hated the concept, but I’ve been fervent about it ever since. My resistance has even withstood an assault from my grandfather, who had an entire conversation with me about how I shouldn’t allow myself to be the last male from his genetic line and that I, “had to keep the family name alive.” This little tête-à-tête ended with me cowering in a corner muttering “not-for-me” to myself on a loop, and him giving me a look that had me temporarily worried he might hatch a plot to steal my DNA, build an artificial womb in the basement and raise the baby on his own.
So why is my brain so fleetingly moving to overturn that conviction now? It’s not “paternal instinct;” in our culture full of dead-beat dads (shout-out to Levi Johnston. Yeah, we remember you), no one ever mentions such a thing I can’t even blame it on my biological clock. As a male, I can give rise to progeny up until the age of crypt-keeper. I mean, Larry King, anybody?
I think it might be that next year I’ll be as old as my mother was when she had me. Every time I have this thought it comes to me like a grenade flying in from no-man’s-land. After the shock passes, I’m left wondering what it is and poking at it with sticks. That is, until it blows up I’m obsessing about it for the rest of the day. At what age will I be ready, if ever? Can I handle all that responsibility? What if I get into a star-crossed romance that ends with me dying slumped over my lover in a Verona tomb and my last quiet thought, the one right before I expire, is “I wish I had kids”?
What’s clear is that I’m certainly not ready now. If I had to describe the feeling I experience when I think about single-handedly caring for a child at any point in the next five years with one word, it would be dread. With a capital D.I do know that if I ever am ready, there are certain pieces that must be in place in order for me to choose to have children. And because obsession’s favorite handicraft is a list, I’ve compiled these reasons in order of their importance to me.
First and foremost is financial stability, because no matter how hard I try, I fail at inventing a machine that turns excess love into food, shelter, school supplies and all the other things it takes to make a successful sentient being. Second is psychological preparedness. If parenting is a marathon, then one must carbo-load. That means getting into top emotional fitness while stockpiling virtues like patience, diligence and liberality. It also means suppressing negative virtues such as intemperance, a passion for warzone reporting, or even just the overwhelming urge to leave electrical sockets uncapped. Another rule of thumb: don’t do anything that could get you kicked out of an actual marathon.
That said, I still have wild oats to sow, and plenty of idiotic whims to chase, although to me these whims often seem romantic at the time. Not to mention all the lessons I still have to learn the hard way (I’m looking at you, alcoholism and credit card debt [winky-face]). Rough estimate here: that will probably take me at least another 10 years.
Fortunately, that gives you all a decade to get your act together. Because, impersonal reader, the next part is all about you. I absolutely refuse to take responsibility for another fragile, young life without a little give and take from society.
Give: No one should give my hypothetical child any guff because he or she has two daddies, or one daddy and a rotating cast of uncles, if you know what I mean. In return, I promise to bring orange slices to soccer games twice a month, even though we all know that this was supposed to be Becky’s mom’s week.
Take: My child once a week, and I’m serious about this one. Humans evolved as social animals, and part of our reproductive success was that the community absorbed some of the cost of childcare. It’s the duty of everyone who knows a parent to assist in the rearing of that child, meaning that at a minimum they ought to offer to relieve that parent for at least two hours once every fortnight. Access to that pool of reciprocal labor should be free.
If you’re a connoisseur of serious literature like I am, then one of your favorite books is Brooke Shield’s memoir of postpartum depression, “Down Came the Rain.” Therefore, a literati such as yourself has learned that a common factor exacerbating the baby blues is that the attention and privilege surrounding an expectant mother seems to disappear with the afterbirth.
Maybe you’re not impressed by all that fancy Brook Shields-book-learn’n. Then trust me, a man who was partially raised by a hilarious sequence of improbable babysitters. We, the united nosey-nine-year-olds of the world know how much you are forced to pay someone to deal with us. And we are shocked. Not as shocked as that grey fellow in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” but definitely more shocked than Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone.”
Childcare is expensive. I still can’t figure out why the women’s groups haven’t done more on this issue, because it really takes a village to raise a child. So if the village is not going to intentionally refrain from feeding Mulan butterscotch candies while pinching her cheeks and instead post a sign reading “No Children Allowed,” then I want at least one night each week where I and man of as-yet-to-be-determined facial hair go to Applebee’s and use our “big-people” voices.
So there you have it society, it seems we both have our work cut out for us. But if you could accommodate a reality show for those glamorous teen-moms, then you could probably do this for me.